Oil train explosion renews push in Albany for ban

Times Union | February 17, 2015 | Post by Eric Anderson

Activists are calling on the Albany Common Council to push for an oil train ban in the wake of a massive fire and explosions of a CSX train Monday afternoon in West Virginia, while state officials are pushing the federal government to toughen regulations.

People of Albany United for Safe Energy (PAUSE) wants the Albany City Council to pass a resolution calling on state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens to ban the trains in New York state.

PAUSE wants Martens to use what’s called summary abatement power, a power that allows the commissioner to step in in cases of imminent potential harm, to ban the explosive cargoes, which are transferred to ships, barges or other trains at the Port of Albany.

The West Virginia train was carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota’s oil fields similar to the crude that both CSX and Canadian Pacific deliver to the port.

The Albany County Legislature previously passed a similar resolution. DEC officials have said Martens’ authority cannot be used in such a manner.

But Martens and state Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald on Tuesday repeated their calls to federal regulators for tougher safety regulations governing the shipments of crude oil.

“The safety of our communities and our residents must be our highest priority and we cannot wait until the next derailment to act,” they said in a joint statement. They also called for rail cars to be retrofitted with reinforced steel plates and advanced braking systems.

The CSX train that derailed was made up entirely of newer CPC-1232 tank cars, as was a derailment in northern Ontario on Saturday of a Canadian National oil train. In both cases, the newer, stronger cars were breached and a number exploded and burned, according to a report in Railway Age, which said car-makers have warned that even the reinforced tankers wouldn’t be able to withstand a so-called high energy derailment.

A derailment of a Canadian Pacific train in southern Alberta on Saturday also involved CPC-1232s, but in that accident no cars were breached and there was no fire.

Asked about the new 1232 models being involved in explosions, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who’s been advocating for safer tank cars, said, “I want to look into that… We have to have safe tank cars. If they are not safe enough, we have to do something about that.” He said he has been urging the federal Transportation Department to adopt tough rules on crude oil trains, including rerouting such trains around populated areas and reducing the trains’ maximum speed in critical areas.

“The West Virginia accident shows we’re all under imminent hazard,” said Sandy Steubing of PAUSE. “The federal government is not going to do anything. It’s up to us alone in the state to make a stand.”

Steubing pointed out that the line where the CSX train derailed Monday was the scene of another derailment, in downtown Lynchburg, Va., last year. In that case, several rail cars also burned and at least one exploded. Many of those cars also were the newer CPC-1232s.

PAUSE will hold a press conference at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Albany City Hall before the Common Council is scheduled to meet.


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Oil train explosion renews push in Albany for ban
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.